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Will a State-Level Push for Free School Meals Spur Federal Action?

When the government made school meals temporarily free to virtually all public school students in 2020, the intent was to buffer children and families from the spike in hunger and economic hardship caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. It also inadvertently turned out to be a pilot project for something anti-hunger groups had been pushing for years: making school food free, permanently, for all public school students, regardless of income.

Once free meals were in place, albeit temporarily, many advocates thought that they would at least remain that way for the rest of the pandemic—if not longer. That didn’t turn out to be the case; this spring, Republicans blocked an extension of the waivers that allowed schools to serve free meals to all, which made the prospect of legislation establishing universal school meals remote.